Do you feel powerless?
Do you have problems you feel like you can’t overcome?
Well, you need to know this. No one is powerless. You always have a choice. Yes, you are powerful. You just don’t know it yet. And it starts with taking responsibility.
He survived the Holocaust by taking responsibility
Victor Frankl survived the Holocaust and wrote a book about it called Man’s Search for Meaning. He attributes a lot of his survival on his ability to change his mindset. Even in the depths of utter human carnage, systemic evil, and unthinkable atrocities, he was able to somehow hope and keep his mind on the possibilities of a better life.
He believed that even amid the most heinous circumstances, where others were at fault, he could still choose how he would respond to it. And understanding that, he was able to direct his mind to think in a way that preserved his life. He wrote, “Even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.”
He took responsibility.
Your circumstances don’t need to define you
Of course, he wasn’t responsible for the death camps or the Holocaust or any of his circumstances. But, he took responsibility for himself and how he approached those circumstances. That was key. He took responsibility for himself and how he thought and felt and acted. He wasn’t just a victim. He was a human who had hope and refused to let his circumstances define him. Instead, he was empowered to let his mind and hope to define him.
I’m not saying your situation or your problems aren’t serious. I’m sure they are.
And I’m not saying that it’s your fault for your bad circumstances. It very well is someone, or something, else’s fault. Frankl’s circumstances weren’t his fault. Frankl believed that blaming others for your problems, even if you’re right, doesn’t help you. That’s not how you triumph.
It starts once you stop blaming others for your present situation.
That enables you to stop seeing yourself as merely a victim and more as a person who still has agency. Then you can start to choose how you will respond. And in that, you can’t help but grow.
My story of taking responsibility
When I was a sophomore in high school, I could barely write a sentence and was a terrible student.
And I blamed everyone around me but me.
I grew up in an immigrant home with parents whose first language wasn’t English, and my dad died when I was young. So there wasn’t time for my mom to read to me or help me with my homework. And for years I blamed my circumstances, my parents—God for my terrible academic performance. And there was a lot of truth in those thoughts.
But, do you want to know what years of thinking like that got me? Nothing. Only more of the same: C’s and D’s.
But once I realized that I needed to change, I sat down with my guidance counselor to plan out my classes for the next year, and I told him I wanted to be in honors classes. He didn’t think it would be a good idea, but since I insisted, he did it.
Being in those classes was embarrassing.
For instance, in my honors English class, we read the papers we wrote aloud. And every time I stood there in front of the class reading my paper, I knew that what I wrote made no sense. I would blush and sweat and stumbled through it all, each painfully fragmented sentence at a time.
But being in that class changed my life. I was around kids who wanted to achieve and were all excellent writers. And the teacher taught in a way that helped them, and me, excel. I grew. I improved. And, in many ways, I can attribute my journey as a writer to that class, to that decision in my guidance counselors office.
Look, you might have been handed a crap past, had terrible parents, born into poverty, be unable to write a sentence. But that doesn’t need to define who you are now, or will be. Your past isn’t your present (nor your future). Only your present is your present. And what you do in your present directs the future. That’s powerful. That gives you power.
You can choose. You can stop blaming others. You can learn new skills, change your job, save your money, make plans for achieving your goals, get therapy, read good books, break bad habits, form good ones.
You, yes, you, can do all of those things. But first, you need to see you have the power to change. By taking responsibility, you will.
And once you do that, you won’t just be powerful.
You’ll be triumphant.